Central Data Catalog

Citation Information

Type Report
Title Life in the times of ‘late development’
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2017
URL http://areu.org.af/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/1704E-Life-in-the-times-of-late-development-Livelihood​-trajectories-in-Afghanistan-2002-2016.pdf
Since 2002, over three rounds of study, the fortunes of a small panel of rural case households in
diverse locations in Afghanistan have been tracked over time. The evidence that has been collected
offers a unique, deep and longitudinal insight into rural people’s lives in Afghanistan and challenges
many of the normative assumptions that have driven policy-making in the rural sector.
The case households come from villages with distinctive economies and institutional structures. This
reflects agro-ecology and how the ownership of irrigated land is distributed. Generalising, higher altitude
villages with less irrigated land tend to be grain deficit villages and have relatively small inequalities in
land ownership. In contrast, villages in the lowlands or plains, particularly in the major irrigated areas,
have major inequalities in land ownership with significant populations of landless households. These
structural differences in land ownership are reflected in village economies and influence the
opportunities for households to find farm and village based work and the degree to which village
institutions function for the common good.
Over the 14-year period since the panel was established in 2002, a new generation has come of age.
Households have aged, in some cases the older generation has died, daughters have married out and
sons have brought wives into the household. Household dependency ratios have changed and where
parents have died land has been subdivided, reducing farm sizes. Idiosyncratic events such as marriage
and deaths, illnesses and other events have all placed demands that have to be met from household
resources that cumulatively have had systemic effects on household assets.
The broader economic environment within which households have sought to make a living has for many
been deeply hostile and volatile. On the positive side, the level of aid funding and military expenditure
fuelled the growth of a service economy that had trickle-down benefits for those who sought work in its
urban margins but by 2015 those opportunities had all but disappeared. The rise of the opium poppy
cultivation from 2003 onwards drove the growth of a rural economy in many parts of Afghanistan. Its
gradual suppression and corralling into the areas of greatest physical insecurity reduced farm labour
opportunities. As insecurity in recent years has become more widespread, opium poppy cultivation has
also gradually returned, raising rural labour wage rates.
The health of the rural economy remains poor. Most of the case households find themselves no better
off now than they were in 2002 and in some instances they are worse off. Remittance income has
become increasingly important and in some villages there has been more permanent outmigration.
Rural land and labour relations are not largely governed by market relations. Access to land is
accounted for much more by patron-client relationships and non-contractual obligations than market
forces. This explains why, on the whole, processes of land accumulation and dispossession have not
taken place. Wages, often paid in kind rather than cash, are determined more by custom and
segmented by gender, locality and age. Thus it is social relationships rather than market relations
based on transaction costs and profit maximising that characterise the nature of exchange and
economic behaviour. This heavily socially embedded economy offers relative security under conditions
of conflict and this may in part explain its persistence.

Related studies

Pain, Adam, and Danielle Huot. Life in the times of ‘late development’. 2017.
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